In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Discipline and Punishment

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Historical Documents
  • Historical Analyses
  • Early Empirical Studies
  • Classic Studies
  • Measurement of Discipline
  • Parenting Styles
  • Children’s Perceptions of Discipline
  • Child Noncompliance
  • Emotional, Cognitive, and Biological Processes
  • Effective and Ineffective Discipline
  • Interventions to Change Disciplinary Views and Practices
  • Positive Discipline

Childhood Studies Discipline and Punishment
George W. Holden
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0033


The discipline and punishment of children by parents is among the most commonly investigated topics in developmental psychology. Discipline has long occupied a central role in views about socialization, specifically the processes by which children are taught the skills, values, and motivations to become competent adults. The types of disciplinary techniques used by parents reflect a core ingredient of those parents’ approach to childrearing. Furthermore, the particular types of disciplinary techniques used have long been related to children’s outcomes. This is true both in theoretical writings and in subsequent empirical evidence. Discipline and punishment is not a simple topic to study for several reasons: there is confusion over terminology and conceptual issues; the subject matter reflects a dyadic event, embedded in larger contexts of ongoing relationships, family, and neighborhoods, as well as culture; and disciplinary practices that are determined by multiple sources and change over time are at the intersection of cognition, emotion, and behavior. Discipline occurs when there is a breakdown in child management and the child has made, in the parent’s view, a transgression. Disciplinary techniques are those methods used by parents to correct misbehavior, discourage inappropriate behavior, and gain compliance from their children. These techniques consist of a variety of actions and reactions and include such common techniques as reasoning, psychological control, coercion by threats or corporal punishment, time-outs, withdrawal of privileges, or ignoring. Some investigators focus on a group of disciplinary techniques labeled “ineffective discipline” but also called “maladaptive,” “dysfunctional,” or “inept” parenting. Such actions inadvertently reinforce misbehavior or model inappropriate behavior. Although most of the research on discipline has focused on parental punishments, attention is now being devoted to the topics of child compliance, autonomy, self-regulation, and ways of engaging children in cooperative interactions rather than control-based ones, under the label of “positive discipline.”

Reference Works

Most of the authoritative reference works that focus on discipline are out of date, because they first appeared in the 1960s and 1970s. Becker 1964 was the first review on the topic of discipline. A more comprehensive and nuanced review of disciplinary practices appeared in Rollins and Thomas 1979. The most extensive examination of punishment as a disciplinary practice can be found in Walters and Grusec 1977. Yet, all of those reference works are out of date. Bornstein 2002, a handbook, is the single-best available resource to turn to for up-to-date reviews on topics related to parenting, including discipline. Grolnick 2003 provides a good and comprehensive discussion of disciplinary practices. The edited book Larzelere, et al. 2013 provides an excellent overview of recent work and thought on parenting disciplinary styles.

  • Becker, Wesley C. “Consequences of Different Types of Parental Discipline.” In Review of Child Development Research. Vol. 1. Edited by Martin Hoffman and Lois Wladis Hoffman, 169–208. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1964.

    The first review of disciplinary techniques and their suspected effects on children.

  • Bornstein, Marc H., ed. Handbook of Parenting. 5 vols. 2d ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002.

    This five-volume set offers encyclopedic information on many aspects and questions related to parenting. Although no single chapter is devoted exclusively to discipline, the topic is covered in a number of them, such as those by Gerald Patterson and Philip Fisher, as well as by Nancy Eisenberg and Carlos Valiente.

  • Grolnick, W. S. The Psychology of Parental Control: How Well-Meant Parenting Backfires. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2003.

    A readable but comprehensive, research-based discussion of parent control from the perspective of self-determination theory.

  • Larzelere, R. E., A. S. Morris, and A. W. Harrist. Authoritative Parenting: Synthesizing Nurturance and Discipline for Optimal Child Development. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1037/13948-000

    This volume consists of ten chapters that cover the state of the art with regard to Baumrind’s conceptualization of authoritative parenting style. It is a must-read for a contemporary description and review of recent research and directions for future work. However, the volume is short on critical evaluations of the approach.

  • Rollins, Boyd C., and Darwin L. Thomas. “Parent Support, Power, and Control Techniques in the Socialization of Children.” In Contemporary Theories and the Family. Vol. 1, Research-Based Theories. Edited by Wesley R. Burr, Reuben Hill, F. Ivan Nye, and Ira L. Reiss, 317–364. New York: Free Press, 1979.

    A thorough review of more than two hundred studies examining parental discipline and control. Identifies many of the sometimes conflicting terms used in the literature. Also reports on associations between parent discipline and child functioning in multiple domains (moral, cognitive, and social competence, etc.).

  • Walters, Gary C., and Joan E. Grusec. Punishment. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1977.

    This book provides a comprehensive analysis of the types of punishment and illustrates those concepts, using the relatively limited parent–child research that was available at the time of its writing.

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